On May 26, 2020, the Supreme Court of India (SCI), with huge public pressure from the civil society organizations and from the several media outlet reports, has taken up a Suo Moto Writ Petition (Civil) No(s). 6/2020 in matters relating to the disastrous migrant crisis that has begun due to the national lockdown on March 24, 2020.
In taking up the Suo Moto cognizance of the migrant crisis, the court has listed this case as, “PROBLEMS AND MISERIES OF MIGRANT LABOURERS” and asked all the states, UTs and the Union Government to file its responses at the earliest, looking at the urgency of the matter. The supreme court listed the case to be heard on May 28, 2020.
In its order, the apex court has observed that,
“We take Suo Motu cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country. We are of the view that effective concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation. We, thus, issue notice to the Union of India and all States/Union Territories to submit their responses looking into the urgency of the matter. We direct the Suo Motu petition to be taken up day-after-tomorrow.”
By acting wisely on time, the court has brought back the confidence of the general public, where for days it has been abdicating its duty, compared to its lower courts’ efforts in cross-checking the executive relief to the migrants. Interestingly for months, the apex court has been under the influence of executive body submissions of all states, UTs and the Union Government, since the inception of the national lockdown. In doing so, it just got the reply as it deserved and acted as if it is functioning under the executive body.
As a matter of fact and record, earlier this month, on May 15, 2020, the apex court had dismissed a petition that requested the apex court to order the Government of India (GoI) to provide free food and water to migrants on the move to their homes. Regretfully while dismissing the petition, the court has said, “It is impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and not walking.” And, it sternly added, “Let the state decide. Why should the court hear or decide?” By speaking this executive language, the court had lost its relevance and trust of the general public by leaving the poor migrants to die at the hands of the state’s inadequate executive actions.
The apex court, since the lockdown, had ignored PILs from concerned citizens and even the distressing reports that have been circulating in the media outlets for months. There have been several horrible reports of people dying on railway tracks and on roads while taking compressed four-wheeler travel, people stranded on state borders and high ways, etc., which finally made the court act upon its Constitutional duty to protect its citizens.
Thereby, it acted in a timely manner before the crisis could have become another horrible Partition.
The court observed that,
“The newspaper reports and the media reports have been continuously showing the unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers walking on-foot and on cycles from long distances. They have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or in the way, i.e. highways from which they proceeded on-foot, cycles or other modes of transport. In the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section of the society needs succour and help. The crisis of migrant labourers is even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations and State borders.”
In observing this, the court has directed the states, UTs and the Centre to provide adequate transportation, food and shelters immediately to the distressed migrants across the nation and listed the matter on the next hearing scheduled on May 28, 2020.
The courts shouldn’t act very late to deliver its duty. After all “justice delayed is justice denied.” They have to be active in all matters to safeguard the life and liberty of all people, irrespective of their gender, caste, class, creed, etc.